After months of closures due to COVID-19, local Atlanta businesses are reopening and ready to serve their community as safely as possible. Georgia Voice talked to a number of Atlanta’s favorite LGBTQ businesses about how COVID-19 has affected them, what kinds of adjustments they’ve made in their reopening processes, and what they hope for the future.

 

ACTOR’S EXPRESS

Corey Smith 

How has COVID-19 affected your business?

Actor’s Express had just opened “The Brothers Size” when COVID-19 halted production and, ultimately, our entire remaining 32nd Season. Since late March, our theater has been closed to the public, and our staff has been safely working from home.

 

What kind of practical adjustments has your business made because of COVID-19?

We’ve gone digital. Like other theaters and performing arts organizations, Actor’s Express has pivoted to online content. We understand that it might be some time before we have patrons within our physical space, so we’ve done our best to bring the theatrical experience into our audiences’ homes via streaming.

 

Have you received any COVID-19 assistance, such as PPP funding?

Yes. We’re one of several arts nonprofits to receive COVID-19 related funding from the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta. We received initial PPP funding in the early days of the shutdown and support from longtime partners like Warner Media and funders like the City of Atlanta and Fulton County. As the pandemic has continued longer than anyone expected, our board and patrons have generously stepped up to support our ongoing operations, ensuring we can produce new digital content and that we can bring AE back as soon as it is safe to do so.

 

Moving forward, what do you hope the future holds for your business?

Actor’s Express believes it will take significant cooperation between the local, state, and federal governments to get this crisis under control. We hope to see that kind of robust and coordinated leadership. We believe it’s really important to follow all mask mandates and policies issued by medical professionals. Currently, we are working with the Emory School of Nursing to lead a study of 18 arts organizations from throughout the region to understand how to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the performing arts. It’s going to take everyone working together as a community to end this pandemic. Wash your hands!

The silver lining for the shutdown — if there is one — is that it’s forced us to be nimble and extremely creative. We’ve never hosted online play readings or virtual cabarets before, and now they may become mainstay programming even when we’re back in our physical theater space. And we have spent the shutdown examining our theatrical process and practice. When we are back in our space, and we will be, there will be even more exciting and deeply engaging programs onstage. We can’t wait to show you what we have been thinking up.

 

OUT FRONT THEATRE COMPANY

Paul Conroy 

How has COVID-19 affected your business?

We closed Out Front on March 15 after a matinee performance of “warplay” and haven’t had a single patron in person since. Not that long ago we decided to not have any in-person programming for the rest of 2020, and we hope that we can continue in-person programming by the end of January 2021, but that date remains fluid as well. We’ve produced some digital content (readings and interviews with performers) but the market is so flooded with digital offerings that we have not had the same reach we would with in-person programming. We, like almost every performing arts company, are sitting and waiting. It isn’t safe for actors, designers and technicians to be in close proximity for rehearsals (since those last several hours a day and span a few weeks) and in making our theater safe for socially distanced seating we would lose 2/3 of our seating capacity. I don’t want to use the term “dead in the water,” because we aren’t dead, but we are certainly stunned and adrift.

 

What kind of practical adjustments has your business made because of COVID-19?

We furloughed our three part-time staff members and renegotiated our lease with our landlord. Beyond that, we are tightening our belts however we can and looking for different ways to still create theater. We are not the wealthiest theater company in the city, so sometimes we get suggestions from people of things to try or borrow from other places and online, but the funding to do a lot of them just doesn’t exist. We are going to produce some one-person shows for digital release, but will not have an in-person audience for them. Some people may think that is being extreme, but I would rather err on the side of caution for everyone involved.

 

Have you received any COVID-19 assistance, such as PPP funding?

We received $4000 from the federal government and took out a 30 year loan for $75,000 through the SBA (Small Business Administration). That loan means we have monthly payments and interest to repay.

 

Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled properly by elected officials, both statewide and locally, particularly in regards to the reopening of businesses? Why or why not?

Candidly speaking, I don’t (on a state level). For an example, when the governor started the reopening in April one of the industries that were allowed to open first were movie theaters. That left a lot of us scratching our heads. Some movie theaters have much bigger capacities than performing arts venues around the city. To be clear, we did not intend on reopening when this was in question. But he stated, “Theaters can reopen,” with no clarification, which led a lot of us to search what was actually meant. The messages we were getting, and still get, are mixed at best. I think the mayor of Atlanta has done a good job in clear messaging, even when it is not always the message we want to hear. I can’t comment on the response on a federal level because I think there hasn’t been one. We are going to follow the advice of the medical community and our citywide elected officials. I know that what is right for Atlanta is not what is right for more rural areas, so if the mayor thinks it is in the city’s best interest to mandate masks, there should be a mask mandate (as an example).

 

Moving forward, what do you hope the future holds for your business?

I think people will crave the feeling of coming together in a shared space, but I think it is going to be a very long time before most people feel comfortable doing that — probably when a vaccine is widely available. Our business depends on gathering people to watch stories play out on stage; we can’t offer to-go orders or curbside pickup. We can’t let people simply access the content we would produce through an online platform (there are many legal and logistical issues). I honestly don’t think people grasp the depth of seriousness COVID is having and will continue to have on the performing arts. As an industry, across the country, there are billions of dollars lost and countless people out of work since March. There are no options, and yet we still have hope and we still are creating however we can. Theater and performing arts have been around for thousands of years — and even though they might look a little different when we start to rebound, I know they will be around for a few thousand more years.

 

BOY NEXT DOOR MENSWEAR

Rocky Carroll 

How has Boy Next Door’s mask initiative been going? How many have you sold
and donated?

When we began our Give One Get One mask campaign in March, we thought the initiative would be temporary and when we reopened we would be able to shift away from that project and return to our pre-COVID-19 roles. But, as we all know, masks are now part of our lives. We continue to make masks in new styles, colors and patterns. To date we have made for sale and donation more than 1,200 masks. Our donations continue to focus on health professionals at senior care facilities and for health care workers in our community who are still in need. Any health professional or facility in need of masks should contact us at info@boynextdoormenswear.com.

 

What kind of practical adjustments has your business made because of COVID-19?

We have instituted practices that are intended to make everyone who visits feel safe. As a small business, if even one employee gets sick, we likely will have to reduce hours, and we don’t want that. As you enter our door there is a station with hand sanitizers and free disposable masks and gloves for anyone who does not bring their own. We wear masks and our customers are expected to mask up as well. We clean, spray and wipe after each visit. We limit the number of people who can be in the store at one time and so far everyone has been very cooperative.

We have reduced our store hours to give us time to clean before opening each day.

Our number one priority remains keeping our amazing staff employed. Our supply chain started experiencing delays due to the global impact of COVID-19 in January for Asia, and February for Europe, and our deliveries were pushed back. Because of our March closure, we didn’t start receiving goods until we were able to reopen in late April. So, because we were closed for more than two months with no sales other than those generated from the web store, our challenge was to honor the commitments we made for spring and summer goods, pay the rent and of course, maintain payroll. Now we are in the habit of evaluating the cost/benefit of everything we do on a more frequent schedule, and we focus on top sellers and customer favorites.

The pandemic created a need for change in our operation and in how we connect with customers. We have restructured how everything works to keep pace with our customers’ changing needs. We have developed a better omnichannel experience so customers can contact us wherever they are on social media, online, or in person. We are focused on staying open, keeping everyone employed and staying connected to the community.

 

Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled properly by elected officials, both statewide and locally, particularly in regards to the reopening of businesses? Why or why not?

We think the mayor of Atlanta has provided solid leadership during this unique and challenging time and we have relied on her guidance. We took her advice to close very seriously and we closed without hesitation. It was the right thing to do for both for our employees and for the community that we are so proud to serve.

 

Moving forward, what do you hope the future holds for your business?

We make careful choices based on a shared commitment to sustainability and human rights when we select fashion brands for the store. At this time, we are reviewing collections that will be delivered for Spring 2021, so we are planning for continuity.

Moving forward we hope to survive and continue the Boy Next Door legacy for another 40 years. During its 40-year history, this store has survived so many challenges and this is one for the books. As always, we believe our community deserves the best and it is our aim to provide that choice.

 

BRUSHSTROKES

Mark Jackson

How has COVID-19 affected your business?

Due to TV/filming not being back to normal, Pride celebrations, cruises, circuit parties, concerts, weddings, etc. being cancelled or delayed, certain types of clothing, Pride related items and gifts have slowed in sales. Other areas such as adult toys, jockstraps, tank tops, games and puzzles have held steady or increased. We believe this is in part due to people being even more adventurous with themselves or their spouses and spending more time at home.

 

What kind of practical adjustments has your business made because of COVID-19?

We installed Plexiglas in front of each register, rearranged aisles to help with social distancing, discarded all testers, and limited the number of customers in the store at one time, reminding customers we offer “tap to pay” at checkout. Most importantly, staff wear mask at all times and allow no one in the store unless they are wearing a mask.

 

Moving forward, what do you hope the future holds for your business?

We truly want our customers to know they are part of our Brushstrokes family and we will keep evolving and growing with them. Thirty-one years ago, our inventory was almost 100 percent different from what it is now, thanks to our customers trusting us to keep their favorite brands while bringing in fresh lines and new product. Our customers realize the importance of supporting local businesses and have done so these past months. Many parts of the future are uncertain for all of us. We believe part of the new normal will be our community becoming more unified and finding ways to do so safely.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.